What Is a Pillow Sham?

What Is a Pillow Sham?

If you’ve ventured into the world of interior decorating recently, you may be wondering, “what is a pillow sham?” It can be easy to mistake a sham for a standard pillowcase, but they serve a different purpose. Read on to learn all about the different types of pillow shams and why you need both shams and pillowcases.

What Are Pillow Shams

Essentially, pillow shams are decorative coverings for pillows. Although shams can be the same size as regular sleeping pillows, they incorporate decorative elements like beading and piping that are usually uncomfortable to sleep on. Instead, they’re used as support when sitting in bed or as a purely ornamental addition to the bedroom. They can be placed under sleeping pillows at night or removed from the bed altogether.

The closures of pillow shams are traditionally at the back, with slightly overlapped fabric. However, more modern designs incorporate a hidden zipper to make it look like the cover can’t be removed. This false front is a design trick that gives the sham its name.

Most pillow shams have aesthetic touches, such as a flange or flat piece of fabric around the borders. Shams also incorporate cords, embroidery, ruffles, or textured fabric to bring unique styles to the bedroom.

Shams are often included with purchasing a new duvet cover or quilt. However, they can be purchased separately in various styles to add a pop of color or texture to an ensemble. They also come in different sizes to choose between a standard sham vs. euro sham.

Standard Pillow Sham

Standard pillow shams turn a standard-sized sleeping pillow into a piece of decor. Pillows 26 inches x 20 inches fit in these traditional pillow shams.

European Pillow Sham

European pillow shams are designed for square European pillows, typically 26 inches x 26 inches. Unlike throw pillows, euro pillow shams are easily removed. This allows for easy washing and lets you change the look of your bedroom regularly. As with your sleep-on cotton pillowcases, you can also choose to wash shams less frequently.

Pillow Sham vs. Pillowcase

Although they look similar, there are some key differences between pillow shams and pillowcases.

Pillow Sham Pillowcase
Hidden back or zipper opening Visible side opening
Zipper or envelope closure No closure
Flange or cord edges No decorative edging
Used for decorating Used for sleeping
Harder-to-care-for materials like satin or brocade Easy-wash cotton or polyester
For bedrooms, living rooms, and other spaces For bedrooms
Multiple sizes available Difficult to find nonstandard sizes

The price of pillow shams and pillowcases can vary widely depending on the material used. However, decorative shams tend to be more expensive due to the addition of aesthetic touches.

Both types of coverings have pros and cons, but it’s important to remember that it isn’t a pillow sham vs. pillowcase decision. Both are essential elements in any bedroom.

A sham may be uncomfortable to sleep on, but it’s the decorative elements like flanges and cords that make your bedroom decor stand out. Pillowcases are usually plain, but their simplicity makes them ideal for sleeping. Decorative pillows usually offer a printed design but aren’t equipped with the same adornments as shams.

Although easier to clean than pillows or throw pillows, shams made of delicate materials like wool or satin may need special handling. However, the fact that you don’t rest your face against the sham all night means that it can stay on your bed longer. While pillowcases are easier to care for, they have to be washed more frequently.

Pillow Sham Design Ideas

Now that you know what pillow shams are used for, you may want to learn how to use pillow shams to enhance your overall room decor. Additionally, there are plenty of pillow sham design ideas to help you decorate other living areas.

In a bedroom, shams are used to hide your plain pillowcases. Often the shams match the duvet cover, but buying individual shams lets you add pops of color that bring out other elements of your room. Textured pillow shams are especially popular as they add depth to a design.

There are endless ways to arrange your pillows on a bed, so you can move things around until you find a layout that you like. Stacking pillows or layering the look are popular options. Try layering on one side of the bed for a less structured, asymmetrical design.

If you’re looking for decorative pillows for a couch or window seat, go for euro shams since they don’t look like they belong in a bedroom. Choose colors and textures that complement the rest of the room. As in the bedroom, you can layer couch pillow shams in corners with throw pillows or try perching one against a throw rug.

Adding texture to any space is a cinch when you have a selection of pillow shams in your linen closet. As you’re decorating, you may want to coordinate your new pillow shams to your bedroom furniture. Read Bedding Styles to Match Your Bedroom Decor to get ideas that fit any decorating style.